Poetic License: “Einstein’s Dreams”

A.R. Sinclair Photography

A.R. Sinclair Photography

Presented by Underground Railway Theater
Part of the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT
Based on a book by Alan Lightman
Adapted and Directed by Wesley Savick

September 24 – November 15, 2015
Central Square Theatre
450 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge, MA
Central Square Theatre on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Cambridge, MA) Even as I sit here staring at a blank page, I am having trouble putting into words the experience of seeing Einstein’s Dreams at Central Square Theatre.  What I know for a certainty is that I can extend to the piece the highest comment that this reviewer can give: it sparked discussion, and it made me think.

The show is certainly not without problems.  Robert Najarian (Einstein) is a gifted dancer, but his German accent comes and goes at random intervals during the performance.  Steven Barkhimer and Debra Wise (Dreamtellers) navigate the play’s shifting sands and their own shifting roles with the adroit precision of a Swiss timepiece, but sometimes seem emotionally disconnected (perhaps a side-effect of the material rather than any flaw in their own acting capabilities).  At about the 2/3 mark, the play becomes pointlessly redundant in its sophomoric hammering of some primary message.  But at a pithy 70 minutes (with no intermission), you can almost forgive the piece this flaw.  The intensely talented cast is engaging and charismatic, the live music by Roberto Cassan melds seamlessly with the action, and the minimalist sets and costumes (by Janie E. Howland and Leslie Held respectively) provide everything needed; no more, no less.

The show isn’t about Einstein.  Not really.  It’s also not about his theory of time or relativity.  Rather, it’s a poetic exploration of the creative mind and lateral thinking that it takes to solve the mysteries of the universe.  Call the pinnacle of thought what you will: “genius”, “luck”, “insanity”… no matter what it is, it is undeniable that the mind which creates it must wander down back alleys and paths few have bothered to tread or managed to find.  This play explores what it means to do just that; how does one ask the questions that lead to discovery?  What sorts of thought can take you down the fruitful path of infinite possibility?  And what sort of toll does that exact upon the individual?

I don’t think the viewer should use this play as an altar upon which to worship the genius of one man.  I also don’t think the audience should take this play as an opportunity to alienate those who “can’t” think in a certain way; the truth is that anyone has the potential for genius.  Instead, I think it’s a great opportunity to engage with the idea of thought-training; what items, situations, or problems have we all looked at day in and day out and considered them in the same exact way?  How might a re-conception of these notions lead to something new?  What have you been taking for granted, and what sort of effect has this had on your capability to discover?

When I walked out of the theatre, I had trouble articulating what I thought about the piece.  My companion had vehemently disliked it.  Because of this, we discussed it for the entire (rather lengthy) trip home (thank you, Honk! festival).  What is theatre if not a means of provoking conversations about intellectual topics that perhaps otherwise lack a forum for discussion?  Go see the Dream.  Bring someone with you.  Swing by the Asgard afterwards and talk about the nature of time, the universe, and genius.  Talk about the things you liked about the show, what you didn’t, and what the various portions meant to you.  This is what theatre is made for.

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